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Groups want to restore gray wolf population

ASHLAND ' Nancy Weiss isn't likely to throw back her head and let loose a howl, even though it would capture her feelings when talking about one of her favorite subjects: wolves.

If someone were to tell me I was like a wolf, I would take that as a compliment, said the western director of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife.

That would mean I was courageous, intelligent, loyal, protective of my family, curious and that I did things that make my surroundings a better place, she said.

Weiss says restoring gray wolves to the remote areas of Southern Oregon and Northern California would make this region a better place ' and that's just what her group and other environmental organizations hope to do.

An attorney, scientist and wolf specialist, Weiss was one of the keynote speakers Monday night during the final day of Wolf Awareness Week being observed at Southern Oregon University.

Wolves once roamed the Southern Oregon region, as indicated by the mythology of American Indians, which contains numerous references to wolves, she observed.

Restoring wolves in the region could be done through natural migration from Idaho where a gray wolf population is established or by actively reintroducing them, Weiss said.

We're not asking for land to be set aside or have any more wilderness area designated, Weiss said. There are already 1.8 million acres of wilderness in this area. There are already 16 million acres of federally managed land.

There is already a lot of largely roadless, largely intact forests with relatively little human development, she added. There is a good prey base.

That makes an ideal wolf habitat, she said.

What wolves need from humans is a little tolerance,' she said.

The event at SOU was sponsored by the ecology Center of the Siskiyous, the Native American Student Union and the newly formed Pacific Alliance for Wild Wolves (PAWWS).

In addition to Defenders of Wildlife, organizations involved in PAWWS include the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, World Wildlife Fund, Klamath Forest Alliance and the California Wolf Center.

In an interview before her Monday address, Weiss acknowledged that many people, including ranchers, are not convinced that bringing wolves back benefits anything but the wolves.

Weiss rejects those concerns.

All they have to worry about is the media overblowing any wolf incidents, she said. When there is a wolf livestock depredation, it tends to get huge press.

In reality, wolf-caused livestock deaths are less than — percent of all livestock losses, she said.

There are so many more livestock losses caused by weather, dehydration, starvation, theft, dogs and other predators, she said.

Defenders of Wildlife has a program to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.

We will pay fair, full market value, Weiss said, adding that the group will also work with ranchers to avoid conflict between wolves and livestock.

The presence of wild wolves helps bring balance to the natural environment, Weiss said, noting that studies at Yellowstone National Park where wolves have been re-established have shown that the presence of wolves puts food on the table for other wildlife.

Without the wolf, the ecosystem is a much lesser place, Weiss said.

Fellow conference participant Regina Neri, representing the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, agreed.

When the wolf is restored to an ecosystem, the ecosystem itself is healthier, she said. That system becomes more abundant, producing more. Not only for animals, but for people as well to enjoy.

In 2001, the Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the wolves listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in Oregon and California. The group wants full protected status for the wolves should they wander from Idaho where they are established into the Northern California-southwestern Oregon area.

Following the successful repopulating of wolves in central Idaho and the Yellowstone National Park area, the agency is considering a reduced level of protection for them. A decision is expected next month.

Wild wolf populations re-established in the Great Lakes area in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and in the Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico as well as the Northern Rockies now number about 4,000, according to official estimates.

No wild wolves have howled in the Klamath-Siskiyou range for more than half a century.

The last purebred wolf in the Oregon wild probably was killed in 1946, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Although a wolf was killed in Oregon in 1974 and another in 1978, officials said those were likely wolf hybrids, the domesticated cross between wolves and large dogs.

ODFW plans wolf hearings The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold meetings in November and December throughout the state to gather public comments about future wolf management in Oregon.

A meeting will be held Dec. — at North Medford High School, followed by another session Dec. 4 at the Oregon State University Extension Service office in Klamath Falls. Both sessions begin at 7 p.m.

The public is encouraged to make comments at the meetings or to send them via e-mail to the department at odfw.news@state.or.us